What Are Raptors Birds?
Raptors are birds of prey, that is birds that hunt and eat other animals. But it’s not quite as simple as that because many birds that hunt for, and eat, meat are not raptors.
There are three anatomical features that determine whether or not a bird is a raptor:
- The beak is sharp and the upper beak is hooked. It is mostly used for tearing meat from prey rather than killing, which is what you might expect it to be used for.
- They have superb eyesight. Unlike most other birds raptors’ eyes face forward and they have the best long distance vision of all animals.
- The feet have sharp claws or talons. These are used for killing and gripping their prey, as well as for protection.
Raptor birds are divided into two scientific orders – Falconiformes, which include raptor birds such as falcons, hawks and eagles, and Strigiformes, which includes all owls. The owls are mostly nocturnal (night-time) hunters while the members of the order Falconiformes are daytime (diurnal) hunters.
North American Raptor Birds
Some examples of raptor birds that can be found in North America are:
There are 37 different species of falcons. They can fly at very high speeds and quickly change the direction of their flight making them great hunters. Unlike most other raptors, they kill with their beaks.
- American Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
- Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
- Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus)
In the Americas hawks are broken down into two groups – members of the Acciptrinae family, known as Accipters, and members of the Buteo group, known as Buteos.
Buteos are known as buzzards in other parts of the world.
- Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
- Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
- Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)
- Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)
- Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis)
- Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo janaicensis)
- Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)
- Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)
Eagles are larger and heavier than most other raptors, apart from vultures. There are 60 different species of eagle, though only two are found in North America. Most of the other species are found in Africa and Eurasia.
- Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
- Golden Eagle (Buteo albicaudatus)
Harries usually hunt over open ground. They fly low when hunting and they hunt other birds, small mammals and reptiles.
- Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
Kites are light raptors, with long and narrow wings and tail. They tend to be very graceful flyers, almost appearing to float in the air.
- Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)
- White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus)
The osprey is a large raptor bird that hunts and eats mainly fish. It has several differences to most other raptors that enable it to better hunt fish. The talons are rounded and the outer toes are reversible which lets it hold onto slippery fish more easily.
- Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Owls are mostly nocturnal hunters with binocular vision. They mainly hunt other birds, small mammals and reptiles, though a few species hunt fish.
- Barn Owl (Tyto alba pratincola)
- Barred Owl (Strix varia)
- Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus)
- Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)
- Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio)
- Flammulated Owl (Otus flammeolus)
- Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)
- Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
- Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)
- Northern Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium gnoma)
- Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)
- Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
- Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiaca)
- Western Screech Owl (Megascops kennicottii)
Vultures are usually bald-headed. They feed mainly on carrion (dead meat). They mainly use their beaks for tearing the dead flesh and their legs and feet are weaker than other raptors.
- Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
- Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)